(By Angela Zimmerman)

Among the myriad joys of living in San Francisco is having access to places like the Exploratorium. If you’ve never been there, as this writer had not until descending on the place with hundreds of others for the After Dark event last week, you are missing out on the best interactive playland in the Bay Area... and should plan a visit posthaste.

Located inside one long arm of the Palace of Fine Arts (a gem in its own right, of course), the Exploratorium stands as mecca for anyone with interest and curiosity in the way science, art, communications, and technology comes to interact and define our world. Like some of the other museums in San Francisco, most notably the California Academy of Science whose regular Thursday evening events have become a hotspot for locals and tourists alike, the Exploratorium has launched its own nightlife series to entice people out in the evenings with the added bonuses of extended hours, special exhibits, and booze. Delicious booze.

Last week's After Dark series, called "Glow," was themed around installations of light and luminescence, like Mark Lotter’s spectacular Cubatron (a well-known Burning Man staple) and a scattering of LED bedecked bicycles cruising around dubbed Playaflies. With ambient music scoring the scene, hundreds of people milled about, engaging with the art, exhibits, play stations, and each other, orienting themselves with glow culture and LED crafting through such projects as “Undanate” (a wave-propelled swimming structure), “The Hidden Glow Around You” (a fluorescence discovery zone), “Light Graffiti”, and “Making Glowsticks.” We tried not to throw up while watching a young scientist dissect a cow’s eye, and we acted as conduit on a “musical bench.”

Other delights? We stretched out under the Cubatron with beer in hand and zoned out to the cascading colors raining above; entered a small room and stood at a podium under the glare of stage lights to simulate the experience of being applauded or jeered at by a responsive crowd; and melted our face with a friend's on a surreal genetic mutation device. We also played with fog and sand and vibration, monitored stress levels, tested the effect of mirrors at various focal points, finally tried the noted Theremin.

With rays of color crafting the backdrop, buzzed attendees and interactive delights abounded. The Exploratorium After Dark series was an exceptional place to ring in the holiday season and it served as a reminder to the various flavors and discoveries that San Francisco has to offer for even those seasoned veterans of life on the town.

The next After Dark goes down on January 5, 6-10 p.m. Learn more about the After Dark series at the Exploratorium and plan your next visit here.